A number of students go to culinary school without much culinary experience, but this wasn’t the case for the executive pastry chef of Gracie’s, Melissa Denmark. By the time she graduated, she already had experience working in a variety of kitchens: from hotels to small bakeries and even a dairy farm. After graduating, found a job that was the perfect fit, right in the heart of PVD at Gracie’s, and has been an instrumental part of their success for eight years.
Gabby Halliday (Motif): What would you recommend to someone who’s never been to Gracie’s?
Melissa Denmark: We change the menu all the time, but I would say definitely do the chef’s tasting! That menu changes every week and the chef has a lot of fun doing things that are a little more unusual and exciting. We also do a 3-course dessert tasting menu where you don’t know what you’re getting. It’s a surprise. You can just walk in and request it.
GH: If you could be any spice, which spice would you be?
MD:I would probably be cardamom because it works well in all seasons like with rhubarb in the spring and peaches in the summer.
GH: If you could go anywhere in the world for vacation, where would you go?
MD: At this very moment, I just want to dive into the ocean so I would probably go to Fiji. I would want to be on an island.
GH: You’re going out for dinner anywhere in RI. Where would you go and what would you order?
MD: I find myself very often at El Rancho Grande. It’s amazing and I LOVE their cocktail menu. They have put out all these amazing mezcal cocktails and they have a Mezcal Negroni that is amazing and I would definitely be getting that. And their stone-ground corn tortillas and just everything on their menu is unbelievable.
GH: What are some of your pet peeves in the kitchen?
MD: I’m a pretty organized person, so some of my biggest pet peeves are when things are haphazard or cluttered, when someone uses too much kitchen tape to write a label — that drives me CRAZY! — and when people don’t peel off the tape before running a container in the dishwasher and then the tape is sticky and gross.
GH: If you had to leave PVD, but still wanted to be a pastry chef, where would you go?
MD: I would move to Amsterdam. Their pastries are unbelievable. When I traveled there I had so much fun, people are so nice to each other. They have gardens and they use those ingredients to cook with, and they bike to work. Ugh, it’s just such a nice community. I would move there in a heartbeat.
GH: Why did you choose the recipe that you provided for our readers?
MD: I chose a pumpkin praline semifreddo, which is similar to a no-churn ice cream, because I want something that people are able to get their hands on during the season and it’s a flavor that is so nostalgic for so many people.
Pumpkin Praline Semifreddo
Yield: 1 9 x 5″ loaf pan, serves 8
7 eggs, yolks & whites separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
1. Place egg yolks in a stand mixer and whip on high until frothy.
2. Place maple syrup in a microwave safe container or small sauce pot and heat until it begins to bubble.
3. Slowly stream in the maple syrup while the egg yolks are whipping. Continue to whip until very pale and fluffy. Move into another bowl and set aside.
4. Clean and dry the mixing bowl thoroughly and add egg whites to the bowl. Whip on low until bubbles begin to form.
5. Slowly add the granulated sugar while whipping until all the sugar is added and mixture appears foamy.
6. Turn to high speed and whip until stiff peaks form.
7. In a large bowl, whisk spices into the pumpkin puree. Then, gently fold the whipped egg yolks into the pumpkin mixture.
8. Gently fold whipped egg whites into the mixture in three additions. Be careful not to overmix and deflate your semifreddo.
9. Clean and dry the mixing bowl thoroughly and whip heavy cream to medium peaks. Then fold it into the mixture in three additions.
10. Fold in chopped pecan praline (recipe below).
10. Line a 9×5″ loaf pan with plastic wrap, then pour in the semifreddo to fill the loaf pan.
11. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight.
12. To serve, either unmold the semifreddo onto a plate, remove the plastic wrap and slice into 8 slices, or use an ice cream scoop and serve from the pan.
3/4 cup pecans
3 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Mix everything together, place on a sheet pan lined with a silpat or parchment paper.
3. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or until pecans become fragrant and the sugar starts to bubble.
4. Cool completely before chopping to fold into your semifreddo.